Before the onset of high-tech social communication, the quickest way for people to spread holiday cheer was through mass-produced Christmas cards. The oldest mass-produced Christmas card – dating back more than 160 years – can be found among the extensive special collections at SMU’s Bridwell Library.
Years before greeting cards and color printing became a standard, businessman Henry Cole commissioned 1,000 ready-to-mail greeting cards to be printed and hand-colored because he was too busy to engage in the traditional English custom of writing notes with holiday greetings to friends and family.
The card is divided into three panels, each echoing traditional holiday themes. The center panel depicts a family drinking wine at a celebration, and the flanking panels illustrate charitable acts of feeding and clothing the poor.
Bridwell Library acquired the piece in 1982. It is believed that only 20 of Cole’s cards have survived to modern times. Bridwell’s copy of the card was signed by Cole and addressed to the card’s engraver, John Thompson (1785-1866). In addition to the card, the library also has a series of correspondence between Cole and the card’s designer, J.C. Horsley, which establishes the notion that the two were friends before the card was created.
Watch a new video about the oldest Christmas card created by Eva Parks Spero of SMU News and featuring Eric White, Bridwell Library’s curator of special collections. Click the YouTube screen to start.